Environment & Science

Who killed Killarney? Cougar P-22 is prime suspect in koala death at LA Zoo

This image shows P-22 on zoo grounds via a surveillance camera, according to the zoo. It was taken on March 2.
This image shows P-22 on zoo grounds via a surveillance camera, according to the zoo. It was taken on March 2.
L.A. Zoo

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A mountain lion known to be living in Griffith Park is suspected of mauling and killing a koala at the Los Angeles Zoo, but it may not be the only suspect.

Caretakers discovered the koala, a 14-year-old female named Killarney, had gone missing from her enclosure last Thursday, according to a statement from zoo. A search soon after turned up some of the koala's remains on zoo grounds.

The puma, dubbed P-22, was seen on surveillance footage at the zoo the night before Killarney's disappearance, according to the statement.

Mountain lion P-22 on the L.A. Zoo's grounds before koala was ...

Mountain lion P-22 is suspected of killing a koala at the L.A. Zoo. You can see video below of the mountain lion on the zoo's grounds. Read the full story here: http://kp.cc/1nAwNuW

Posted by KPCC on Thursday, March 10, 2016

P-22's GPS collar, which emits a signal every two hours at night, also put him in the vicinity of the zoo, according to National Park Service spokesperson Kate Kuykendall.

P-22 (the name given by researchers. Off-Ramp listeners favored friendlier options in a renaming contest) has survived for years in the park and on occasion emerges in the public spotlight.

A mug shot of P-22 showed the animal looking downtrodden and afflicted with mange in 2014. Biologists suspected it had been poisoned by ingesting rodenticide, but it eventually recovered.

The mountain lion made news again last year when it was temporarily trapped in the crawlspace under a Los Feliz home.

Still, no photo or video evidence definitively ties P-22 to the koala killing. All that's known for certain is that something entered the zoo's koala enclosure last Thursday night and made off with one of the residents.

Kuykendall said it's too soon to point the finger at P-22.

"We're just not able to say for certain whether this was P-22 or not," Kuykendall told KPCC.

The koala could have been killed by another animal, and a Park Service biologist who looked at the enclosure said "he thought it was possible that it could be a mountain lion, a bobcat, potentially a coyote, but that was probably a little less likely," Kuykendall said.

No matter what did it, the incident was just an example of normal animal behavior and nothing to be worried about, she said.

That didn't stop L.A. City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell's office from asking if it's time to move P-22 somewhere more remote, where the animal is less likely to come into contact with humans.

"P-22 is maturing, will continue to wander, and runs the risk of a fatal freeway crossing as he searches for a mate. As much as we love P-22 at Griffith Park, we know the park is not ultimately suitable for him," O'Farrell said in a prepared statement.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife would be responsible for any relocation attempt. Department spokesperson Andrew Hughan said moving P-22 probably wouldn't work, though.

"In almost all cases, there's going to be a territory conflict with another lion or lions, and often one or both of them can be killed," Hughan said.

Kuykendall said that while the koala's death is sad, it's an important reminder that all pets should either be protected in a secure enclosure or brought indoors at night.

The zoo said it has started to move a majority of its animal collection into enclosed quarters at night due to the incident. The koalas were relocated indoors, with the zoo saying they will return to the outdoor habitat "at a later date."

There are 10 koalas remaining at the L.A. Zoo, according to the statement. Killarney had been there since May 25, 2010.

This story has been updated.